Interview (Part 3): Julia Hart — “The Keeping Room”

Over the weekend, an outstanding indie movie opened in select theaters in North America: The Keeping Room, written by Julia Hart, directed by Daniel Barber, and starring Brit Marling and Hailee Steinfeld. I interviewed Julia back in February 2013 and will be reprising that series this week, a terrific conversation well worth revisiting.

Today in Part 3, Julia talks about the process of writing "The Keeping Room," what it felt like to type FADE OUT, and how she reacted to the news her script had made the 2012 Black List:

Scott:  There are multiple themes that work in the story. One of them I picked up from reading the script, the idea of humanity amidst inhumanity. There's this violence set against the backdrop of this horrific war. Yet there are these remarkable moments and relationships in the story which highlight the potential, even power of human connection, friendship, love. Does that resonate with you at all as a theme for "The Keeping Room"? Humanity amidst inhumanity?

Julia:  I think we often see war films that explore the inhumanity and not enough that explore the humanity. Especially the humanity of women. Of civilians. And I was definitely interested in a woman's capacity for love and the will to survive amidst so much inhumanity.

Scott:  So you saw "Django." How would you draw a distinction in terms of how you approached violence in "The Keeping Room" and what you experienced when you saw "Django Unchained"?

Julia:  I loved the movie. I love Tarantino's movies and obviously I love the Civil War. It felt like it was made just for me. [laughs] I think that his approach to violence is far more pop and more fun. There are scenes in that movie where you're rooting for Django to be killing all these people. I don't think that that's a feeling that anyone should have during "The Keeping Room." I think that these women who've never had to kill anyone or even fire a gun are terrified to have to do both. As much as I enjoy the kind of entertainment value of the way Tarantino portrays violence in the film, I don't think that that's something that exists in the world of "The Keeping Room."  I want the audience to feel scared for these women, that they have to be killing these men and defending themselves.

Scott:  "The Keeping Room." It plays a key role, that actual spot in the farmhouse. But since it's also the script's title, I'm thinking there's got to be something meaningful to you about it. Is there some thematic importance going on, another level to the actual words, "The Keeping Room" that you had in mind?

Julia Hart:  Other than just being in love with the words, for me, it's ultimately about the idea that the keeping room is supposed to be the heart of the homestead and the safe place ‑‑ the place where you eat, the place where you communicate, the place where you spend time with your family ‑‑ that it becomes this last vestige of home to them, this sanctuary. They've abandoned the house. The house is kind of a specter now. Except for the bedroom that they sleep in, it's pretty much dark and empty. And it's interesting that it's an antiquated name and space, we don't build Keeping Rooms anymore. I wanted to commemorate that.

Scott:  Since this was your very first completed screenplay, I'm curious. Can you remember what you were feeling just as you typed the script's first two words, "Over black"?

Julia:  [laughs] I remember, having always wanted to be a writer ‑‑ that was the thing I wanted to be since I was a little kid ‑‑ and to feel like, with the support and excitement of my husband, I had finally found the thing that was going to potentially make that possible, I felt like this was going to be something. And not in any kind of, "I'm great. This is going to be so great." I just felt like it was happening. I think that's the feeling that I had when I started writing.

Scott:  And you had a pretty extensive outline before you started?

Julia:  It was extensive in that it was the complete story, but much like the script, it was very sparse. Actually, the only scene that was fully written out is that last scene in the keeping room, that last standoff.

Scott:  You had written that out before you had actually started the script.

Julia:  Yeah, I wrote out the whole outline, and then, for some reason, when I got to that scene, I had to start writing out the dialogue. I don't know why.  I think that is still a very important moment in the film.

Scott:  OK. So then, let me hit you with the other thing. Do you remember what you felt like when you typed, "the end"?

Julia:  So good. [laughs] So good, and also scared because the first draft was 65 pages. I was like, "I think I'm done, but this is really [laughs] short." But yeah, when I was typing those last words. You know, the men, whatever the last line is about the men. "Move over the land like zombies." I was just like, "I think this is it. I think this is the beginning of it for me."

Scott:  What's the status on the project right now?

Julia:  They're gearing up for pre‑production, figuring out when they're going to scout and when we're going to shoot. But we're going to be shooting in the spring.

Scott:  What's your reaction to the script having made the 2012 Black List?

Julia:  [laughs] I'm just so excited. I have known about the Black List for a long time, obviously because I come from a family of writers and my husband's a producer, and I have other friends who are writers. I've had friends on it. There were some people who had told me that they thought it might be on there, but I didn't try to get too excited. Then to actually have it be on there was really, really exciting.

Tomorrow in Part 4, Julia discusses two more projects she has in the works.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

For the movie's website, go here.

Declare Your Independents! Watch for The Keeping Room when it opens in your local theater or on VOD and see it!

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